By Wandoo Sombo
A Federal High Court, Abuja, on Tuesday ruled that the issue of elevation would not stop a judge from carrying out his or her duty.
Justice Gabriel Kolawole gave the ruling in the N9 billion alleged fraud trial against former Benue governor, Gabriel Suswam.
The judge made the clarification as a result of concern raised by counsel to Suswam, Mrs Chinelo Ogbozor, as a result of Justice Kolawole’s elevation.
The issue was objected to by the prosecuting counsel, Mr Aminu Alilu.
The News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) reports that the Federal Government is prosecuting Suswam and two others over diversion of N9.79 billion.
Part of the diverted funds was said to be for police reform and Subsidy Reinvestment and Empowerment Programme.
Those charged alongside Suswam in the 32- count charge are Omadachi Oklobia, his former Commissioner for Finance, and Janet Aluga, former Accountant , Benue Government House.
In the charge, the trio allegedly cornered the said funds between 2012 and 2015 while Suswam was governor of the state.
They are also accused of conspiracy, conversion of property derived directly from corruption; collaboration to conceal property derived from corruption; obtaining by false pretence and accepting cash payments, exceeding the amount authorised by law.
Counsel to Suswam, Mrs Chinelo Ogbozor told the court that her client had certain concerns with regards to proceeding with the trial.
According to her, “in view of the recent development, which is in public domain even though not yet made official, which is with regards to the elevation of my lord, we will be asking for the court’s direction.”
She said that as a result of their concerns, they were not prepared to proceed with the matter.
Mr A.O. Ochogwu, counsel to the second defendant in the matter said that his client shared the same views with that of the first defendant.
Ochogwu, however, added that since the court had also fixed March 15 to hear the matter, he prayed the court for an adjournment to enable counsel prepare to commence trial.
Alilu, however, maintained that the reason given by the defence for not being ready to proceed was not tenable as there were provisions in law to take care of instances of elevation of a judge.
“If a diligent search had been done, the defence will realise that Section 396 of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act, (ACJA) has taken care of the issue of elevation.
“We also have our concerns; we transported our witnesses all the way from Benue, so how do we take care of their accommodation and feeding until Thursday?”
Kolawole noted that the issue of elevation would not stop a judge from carrying out his or her duty.
In a short ruling he said:” When the matter came up the defence raised concerns over proceeding with the matter on account of elevation of a judge.
“But the prosecution had a different view because of Section 396 of ACJA that says a judge elevated shall return and conclude the criminal matter he was handling.”
Kolawole, however, said that he could not hear the matter because he had fixed a pre-election matter and that since he was assured of another date for the case, he would adjourn it until the next date.
He subsequently adjourned the matter until March 15 for the trial to commence.
The offences are said to be contrary to, and punishable under various provisions of the Money Laundering (Prohibition) Act 2011, and the Advance Fee Fraud and Other Related Offences Act.